DIETING, THE SELF, AND RELATIONSHIP FUNCTIONING
THE ROLE OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES. Dieting and self functioning. Women of all ages and stages diet in a periodic fashionusing healthy dieting techniques. Further, the use of these dieting techniques is related to negative psychological outcomes (such as depression) regardless of weight status. It is possible that women may initially use healthy dieting behaviours in order to lose weight. However, when these strategies are not perceived as successful, women may turn to unhealthy dieting techniques while in a psychologically vulnerable state. It was predicted in this study that women who reported higher levels of healthy dieting would not differ on measures of self functioning (depression, self-esteem). However, it was predicted that women who were doing more unhealthy dieting would have lower self-esteem and be more depressed. Dieting and attachment style. This attachment style is a“working model” of the self and significant others which dictates a person’s expectations ofothers’ behaviour within relationships. These attachment styles continue into adulthood, affecting thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in relationships. Initial attempts at measuring attachment style in adulthood required participants to choose between a secure, ambivalent (anxious), and avoidant attachment style. Psychometric work using factor analysis has revealed that attachment is best described in terms of levels of two relatively independent dimensions – attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. High levels of attachment avoidance are demonstrated in a tendency to avoid or withdraw from closeness in relationships. Attachment security isexpressed in terms of low levels of both attachment anxiety and avoidance. Research has repeatedly demonstrated a link between insecure attachment and eating disordered behaviours. It has been suggested that insecure attachment affects health behaviour partly through the lower self esteem. Anxious attachment is probably more strongly related to eating disordered behaviour than avoidant attachment. The difference in feelings about the self for anxious women may contribute to a more negative body image, and ultimately higher levels of unhealthy dieting. Thus, for the current research it was predicted that women who reported more anxious (but not avoidant) attachment in romantic relationships would engage in higher levels of unhealthy dieting.
Dieting and relationship satisfaction. As discussed earlier, weight-loss efforts occur in interpersonal contexts in which other people influence women’s body satisfaction and dieting behaviours. In a consistent vein Markey, Markey, and Birch found that women in less satisfying relationships did more unhealthy dieting, but not more healthy dieting. In their study healthy dieting was related only to being overweight and having more weight concerns. Unhealthy dieting however was related to being more depressed, having lower self-esteem, and higher levels of marital disharmony. For the current research it was predicted that women who were engaging in higher levels of unhealthy dieting would report finding their relationship less satisfying, as would their male partners. would be found for healthy dieting.
The role of eating disordered attitudes. Evidence outlined above demonstrates both that lower levels of self and relationship functioning are related to unhealthy dieting, and that eating disordered attitudes are related to unhealthy dieting. However, the relationship between these dysfunctional attitudes and dieting behaviours is less clear and less well researched. Neumark-Sztainer, Wall, Story, and Perry used Structural Equation Modelling to test thecontribution to unhealthy dieting of various psychosocial risk factors, and found that weight and body concerns (an aspect of eating disordered attitudes) were the primary predictor of unhealthy weight control behaviours, with other psychosocial variables having an impact only through these weight and shape concerns. It was expected that women who had more negative views and affect related to the self (lower self-esteem, higher depression, higher attachment anxiety) and in their relationship (lower relationship satisfaction) would engage in higher levels of unhealthy/disordered dieting as a function of their higher levels of eating disordered attitudes and beliefs.